The plot of Keisei kiyome no funauta (An innocent courtesan and a sailor’s song: けいせい清船諷) is unknown to us, but it is undoubtedly an adaptation of historical events and figures in the kabuki and bunraku genre called jidaimono (lit., "period piece" or historical drama: 時代物). Katô Masakiyo (加藤清正) was based on the historical Katô Kiyomasa (清正加藤 1562-1611), a samurai who served the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The son of a blacksmith, Masakiyo was legendary for his ferocity in battle. Respected by both allies and foes from his mid-twenties on, he later commanded part of Toyotomi's forces in the Korean campaigns of 1592 and 1597. In kabuki, his tale takes an ominous turn when circumstances force Masakiyo to meet with Kitabatake (a theatrical stand-in for Tokugawa Ieyasu, whose portrayal in theater or literature was banned by the shogunate). Kitabatake gives Masakiyo a poisoned cup of saké, which he drinks, knowing it will be fatal. Masakiyo nevertheless manages to stay alive for months to protect his lord until finally succumbing to the deadly brew.
This is one of Hirosada's more dynamic designs, with a very effective use of a rough sea (note the "Hokusai-style" crashing waves) for the stage set and Ensaburô's parallel pose along the strong diagonal established by the prow of the boat.
This is a well-preserved deluxe impression (simulated gold and silver pigments) with fine colors and large margins on the top and left of each sheet. We could not find the complete triptych in the major public collections (the MFA Boston has only the right sheet, accession #11.35655), so this design appears to be rather uncommon.
References: KNP, vol. 6, p. 548